Mainland court may rehear ship crash case

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 September, 2011, 12:00am


A dispute over a ship collision that was the first of its kind to be heard in Hong Kong's Admiralty Court could be reheard on the mainland.

This emerged after Hong Kong's admiralty judge Anselmo Reyes said the mainland-registered ship He Da 98 was 'held wholly responsible for the collision' with the Cyprus-flagged dry bulk cargo ship Pontodamon in Shanghai's port area in November 2007.

As a result of the judge's decision, Shandong Qingdao Marine Shipping, which owned the 5,060 dwt He Da 98 at the time of the collision, has to pay compensation to Sungleam Maritime, the Greek owner of the 72,917 dwt Pontodamon.

Sources close to the case estimated the bill at US$1.4 million in damages plus interest and costs. The final amount will be assessed at another hearing later this year.

Terry Floyd, an admiralty manager at Ince & Co, confirmed 'proceedings are under way in China' although he was uncertain when the case would come to court. The company is acting on behalf of Sungleam.

Floyd said it was hoped the mainland court would respect the decision of the Hong Kong court but there was no guarantee this would happen. The mainland court could find in favour of Shandong Qingdao Marine Shipping or apportion blame between the two ships.

Ernest Yang, a partner at DLA Piper, which is representing Shandong Qingdao Marine Shipping, refused to comment.

One source said the mainland company did not want the case heard in Hong Kong. But it had little choice after one of its ships was arrested in Hong Kong, a move that allowed Sungleam to pursue the admiralty court action in the territory.

The mainland company also had a ship associated with Sungleam arrested in China, which allowed it to launch its own court case there.

Floyd said the case was unique because it was the first time the Admiralty Court had to decide who was to blame for a ship collision and it was also a rare example of one ship being 100 per cent blamed for a crash between ships.

Collision cases are usually settled through negotiation, while vessels involved in accidents are invariably held to be at fault in varying degrees.

An offer to settle the case between the two shipping firms was not accepted.

One legal source said there were 'one or two cases a year' where maritime legal decisions made in Hong Kong were prosecuted again through the mainland courts.

'They are not totally usual,' the legal insider said.

He pointed out that there was 'no reciprocity in enforcement of judgments between Hong Kong and mainland courts' although the enforcement of arbitration decisions was mutually recognised by both jurisdictions.

In his 19-page written judgment, Reyes rejected the evidence of the master of He Da 98 that he ordered avoiding action be taken 10 minutes before the collision, which occurred after both vessels turned towards each other at the last moment.

'The collision occurred when He Da 98's port bow made contact with the Pontodamon's starboard side,' Reyes said. 'The bottom line is that He Da 98 ought to have given way by turning to starboard much earlier than she actually did.

'He Da 98 did not turn starboard at an earlier stage, although it had sufficient opportunity to do safely. He Da 98 only turned to starboard after crossing Pontodamon's bow.'